The Left Archive: Peoples Democracy, ideology and just what is Trotskyism? August 27, 2007Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Leninism, Marxism, People's Democracy, Trotskyism.
This – no, not the image above which is a publication from 1970 – this here cover-2.pdf is fresh from the archives, an interesting document entitled “What is Trotskyism” issued by People’s Democracy in or about 1980. The pamphlet contains a speech by veteran Trotskyist Ernest Mandel (a fascinating person in his own right who seems to have been able to overcome much of the usual tendency on the left to cowerg behind the lines and instead been willing to discuss and argue with political opponents) during a debate with Monty Johnstone of the CPGB from 1969. And it’s a pretty good explication of what Mandel considered was currently existing Trotskyism during that period.
It’s sort of fun. Within the pages there are three images, one of Trotsky, one of Lenin and then a third of a Peoples Democracy March from the late 1960s, perhaps even the PD march at Burntollet. Simply produced by PD on a typewriter. We have ads for their bookshops in Andersonstown and Killester (that well known hotbed of revolutionary activity).
The debate itself is quite interesting. It was clearly at a point when Trotskyism was resurgent, buoyed by the rise of the New Left and student movements. Indeed the spirit of ’68 permeates the pages, particularly when Mandel raises some quite frankly excellent questions regarding the role of the pro-Moscow PCF during May 1968 (although one might suggest that it’s always easier to be complaining about the exercise or non-exercise of power when one has effectively none). And in a fascinating foreshadowing of later and more contemporary debates Mandel argues that the invasion of Czechoslovakia ‘…not only violated the sovereignty and independence of a small nation…but was equally criminal in other respects’. This concentration on sovereignty is quite telling (although to me a bit contradictory for internationalists)… anyhow. Read the rest yourselves!
The ideological basis for this tilt to Trotskyism by PD (which also flirted with Maoism) developed during the 1970s, although it is in a sense hardly surprising that such a political child of 1968 would find other more traditional left formations difficult to align with (indeed there has to be a thesis subject there on the way in which the appropriation by SFWP effectively closed down the option for our homegrown radicals to follow the Moscow – or even really the Havana route). By 1976 they were recognised as the Irish section of the Fourth International.
In a way the longevity of PD is remarkable. From the early days as part of the campaign for civil rights the movement transcended its roots as what appeared to be a fundamentally student based organisation. In the early 1980s they held two seats on Belfast City Council. But as PSF moved towards a more overtly political stance it provided both competitor and new home for some PD activists. Eventually, as late as 1996, it was dissolved and replaced by Socialist Democracy.
Any of you who know the story from the inside I’d be most interested to hear more. It sounds like a remarkable organisation.
Incidentally I can’t resist decoding the cover of the Northern Star from 1970 above. Its got it all, doesn’t it, from Larkin, to a youthful rioter and then a stencilled Starry Plough. Oh yes, and two initials which at that time wouldn’t quite resonate with quite the same chilling effect as more recently!
[Image above from CAIN]